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Rethinking Irrigation Is Key

Cleaning the Ganga

Prioritising aviral dhara (uninterrupted flow) over nirmal dhara (unpolluted flow) can deliver quick outcomes in the Namami Gange Programme. Treating human, municipal and industrial waste released into the Ganga is a long-term project requiring vast resources and political energy, besides behavioural change on a mass scale. But, Ganga’s dry season flows can be quickly improved by basin-scale conjunctive management of the surface water and groundwater. Irrigation in the Ganga basin today depends on tubewells far more than canals. A multipronged protocol is outlined to manage the old canal network and new hydropower storages in order to maximise irrigation benefits and improve dry season river flows.

Relentless pollution and dwindling base flows have made the Ganga one of the world’s dirtiest rivers. Extreme faecal pollution of the Ganga and Yamuna waters even in the upper stretches is now suspected to be the source of deadly superbugs that have spread antibiotic resistance around the world (Mallet 2017). The Ganga river basin is the world’s most densely populated river basin experiencing rapid urbanisation. Some 30 cities, 70 towns, and thousands of villages along the Ganga dump their untreated sewage—over 6 billion litres per day (Shah et al 2018)—directly into the river, along with thousands of animal carcasses and human corpses. Another 260 million litres of untreated industrial wastewater are discharged daily by hundreds of factories and tanneries (Chaudhary and Katakey 2014). Six million tonnes of chemical fertilisers and 9,000 tonnes of pesticides applied to the basin’s agricultural fields add to the pollution (Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation 2017). All these make the Ganga at Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi the world’s most polluted river. “Except during monsoon when the river is flooded with water, [the quality of] Ganga water in Allahabad remains even below Category E” (Kumar 2011: 531), lowest in the ranking of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB 2017). Bathing in the Ganga is so fraught with risks that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered health warnings against it and ordered it to be prominently displayed along its banks between Haridwar and Unnao (Indiatimes.com 2018).

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Updated On : 30th Sep, 2019

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